Such a book would be bound to be a best seller, for it would proclaim the things the soul of man wants to hear. It would tell Christians that God wants them to be healthy, happy, and materially prosperous; to experience success and fulfillment of their soul’s deepest desires while in this world, with an expectation of entering into the reward and blessing of God when they die. We should not be surprised that ministers who proclaim this anti-cross message are widely embraced, that they sell millions of books, and speak in arenas that seat tens of thousands. The apostle Paul testified that the last days before the return of Christ would be precisely as we see them today.
II Timothy 4:3-5
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
Notice the highlighted words, “according to their own desires.” What do men and women desire? Do they not desire to live materially prosperous lives, to be comfortable and at ease? An honest review of the most popular Christian books and teachings today will reveal that the church has indeed “heaped up for themselves teachers” to tell them the things they want to hear.
The image of the successful Christian has become so inculcated into the modern religious mind by hordes of teachers, preachers, books, and sermons that the majority are unable to any longer perceive that what is being proclaimed is the opposite of the example and message of Christ and His disciples.
Emphasis on “YOUR”
Then Yahshua said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
Consider what Christ is testifying here. When the Son of Man comes in His glory, He will reward every many according to his work. Just before stating this, Yahshua describes two very contrasting lifestyles. There is the man who denies his soul, refusing to live for personal satisfaction, who takes up his cross, and follows in the footsteps of Christ. This man will receive glory and honor and life when Christ appears.
Then there is another lifestyle presented. This is the man who seeks after the world and the things in it. Self-fulfillment, rather than self-denial, is the overriding motive of this man’s life. He seeks to gain those things his soul desires, whether they be material possessions, a comfortable life, many pleasures, or the approval and applause of other men. This person may convince themselves that a pursuit of their soul’s desires is the will of God, but when they stand before Christ they will find that they have forfeited the salvation of their soul.
A great many voices are proclaiming the message of the anti-cross today. I understand the appeal of the prosperity and self-fulfillment message. Nobody likes to suffer. If we were given the choice between spending a day enjoying ourselves, or a day suffering, and were promised that the reward at the end of the day would be the same for both, who in their right mind would choose suffering?
This is precisely where the deception comes in. The reward at the end of the day is NOT the same for the ones who choose to please themselves and the ones who embrace suffering in order to follow Christ.
And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able… And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”
Have you ever seen a popular speaker today who gathered tens of thousands of followers by telling them that they are blessed to have less of the world’s goods than others, even to be considered poor, to have little to eat, to live a painful life of sorrow and tears, and to be hated by others? Such messages do not attract the materially covetous, or those who are prospering in this world system. Megachurches would be emptied overnight if those carnal saints who fill them were suddenly subjected to the message that Christ proclaimed.
And turning His gaze on His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and cast insults at you, and spurn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets.”
The heaped up teachers of prosperity have no shortage of admirers who love the message of living a full and satisfied life. It has not occurred to most that this was not the message, or the example, of Christ and His disciples. The message of fulness and pleasure appeals to the soul, but it leads to destruction.
A great many Christians today are afraid to take a closer look at what Christ actually taught and exemplified in His life. It is imperative that they do so, however, for at the end of the day it will matter greatly which principle one lived their life by. Christ will ask, “Did you take up your cross and follow Me, or did you seek to save your natural life and satisfy the desires of your own soul?”
One path is afflicted, leads to life, and “few there be that find it.” The other is a broad way. It is crowded with pilgrims who assure one another that it is a good and pleasant way. Notwithstanding the repeated promises of the myriad of preachers along this great highway, its end is destruction and woe.
The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?
My goal in this chapter is to point out a very important consequence that arises from the mindset we have adopted. The man who has an expectation of being called to suffer will be much more accepting, and less likely to complain, when he encounters trials and difficulties. The man who believes the best path is one of blessing, satisfaction and comfort will find much to complain about, even finding fault with God, when his experiences fall short of his soul’s desires.
Last week while riding my motorcycle I was struck by an elderly lady in her 90s. This resulted in a serious injury to my left leg. I received a compound fracture, and my ankle was dislocated. Surgery was required and steel plates and screws were put in my left leg.
Although I have had much grace from God, there is some pain and discomfort associated with such an injury. I was in the hospital two days and then sent home. My daughter Kristin invited me to stay with her, as I was instructed to keep the leg elevated and not put any weight on it for two weeks. The evening my daughter brought me home it was a bit warm in the home, but we opened the windows, as it was evening, and it cooled off adequately.
The next day was Friday and my daughter had to go to work. She left the air conditioner on for me, but the house grew warmer and warmer throughout the day. We live in Georgia and even though it is September the temperature reached the low 90s. I was in a considerable amount of discomfort from my injury. In addition to this, I began getting hotter and was sweating lying in the bed. When my daughter came home she realized at once that the A.C. wasn’t working. She called her landlord, but was told it would be Monday before a repairman could be sent out.
The week-end continued hot, and in addition to the pain and heat I had some encounters through e-mail and other venues in which some Christians were acting, or speaking, in ways that tempted me to be short, or cross with them.
Have you ever been “hot and bothered?” In such times it is very easy for a person to speak or act in a manner unbecoming the nature and Spirit of Christ. Perhaps we might be tempted to complain against God, knowing that He could make our circumstances much easier and pleasant. When encountering some provocation from another human, we may be inclined to speak impatiently, without the gentleness, the self-control, longsuffering, humility and peace that Yahweh would have us to manifest.
During the three days at home following the accident when I did not have air conditioning, the Spirit led me to contemplate these things. I saw clearly that Yahweh was giving me an opportunity to be enlarged spiritually through my experiences of suffering. If I could remain patient, gentle, calm, thoughtful of others while refusing to complain, find fault, or bemoan my suffering, then I would make an advancement that could only be gained under such circumstances.
It helped tremendously that I already accepted the fact that suffering is part of the experience of all who would follow Christ. On the morning of the day I was injured I had just posted the writing titled “Why Does God Require Christians to Suffer?” I did not think it unusual that I should be experiencing some difficulty, or affliction. I understood that it is in the fire that the sons of God are purified. As they bear up patiently under all kinds of suffering they are transformed more and more into the image of Christ.
Monday the air conditioner repairman stopped by. It was nearly 8 P.M., and he had been long at work, but he came by. He had the problem fixed in about five minutes. Ants had gotten into the electrical connections and were keeping contacts from closing. This is a common problem in the south.
I had just written to a sister a day or two previously about a plague of insects she had been experiencing in her home. She related to me how she had lost her cool, and had acted rebelliously toward her husband, as one small incident after another piled up until she was at a breaking point. Her husband did not want to pay for a pest control company to come in, but she told him he had no choice, and she went and called a company to spray the house. Later, she lamented the fact that she had acted as she had.
I saw a parable in what she shared with me. There are many small agitations that come into our lives, just like the parade of insects into her home. These things can “bug” us. We see them as nuisances, and pests, and our thought is to see them gone so we can be at ease and comfortable again.
In truth, these things are divinely ordered experiences. Yahweh tests us to perfect us. A sister in Christ recently wrote to me and said, “there can be no TESTimony without a TEST.” I thought that was very clever, and very true. Sometimes we can handle a large event in our lives, such as my wreck on the motorcycle and the ensuing surgery. But how will we do when we get home and the air conditioner is not working? What if someone begins to speak or act toward us in a dishonorable way. Will we patiently bear with it, or will we in our discomfort blow a fuse?
In our tests we can go one of two ways. We can embrace the suffering and seek to grow spiritually, utilizing that grace which Christ so liberally offers us. Or we can respond in the flesh. We can be self-focused, and snap at others, or explode at circumstances, when they are not to our liking. This latter course will not bring any man to conformity to the image of Christ.
The air conditioning sure feels good this week. It was turned back on Monday night. Tuesday I began noticing a rash coming up on my injured leg. It itched. The next day it had spread. By Thursday it was spread far more and itched tremendously. I contacted the doctor and he advised me to take some Benadryl, suspecting that it is a reaction to some of the strong antibiotics they gave me in the hospital.
I smile as I think of this. We get rid of the ants and in come the fleas. We get rid of the fleas and in come the roaches. They are pests. They do “bug” us, but all things work together for good to those who love God and are the called, according to His purpose. Shall I murmur against God, or shall I grow more in the grace and character of Christ?
People of God, it is appointed unto Christ’s disciples to suffer many things. There is no suffering without purpose, and no affliction through which we cannot grow and be enlarged. Did the apostle really mean “everything” when he wrote the following:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
It is not wrong to ask God for relief from some distress, or trial, but we should always keep in mind that it has come to us from God’s hands with good intent. When we come to see suffering as a necessary part of our advancement into the image and likeness of God, we will not be so quick to see only evil in our distresses. We may even come to say with the Psalmist:
It is good for me that I was afflicted…
I admire the apostle Paul’s attitude toward the suffering of his life. He learned to meet each new affliction with contentment.
II Corinthians 12:9-10
Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Only a person who understands the necessity and purpose of suffering could find contentment with it. May Yahweh have many sons and daughters in these last days who find this place of contentment.